Pakistan and India: Friends abroad always, enemies at home always always

Published: August 22, 2016

Pak-India Flag PHOTO: AFP

As someone who had been raised in the United States by Pakistani immigrants, I have always found it difficult to fathom the animosity between Pakistanis and Indians living in South Asia. All the aspects of life that bring the two groups together – from music and food, to values and mannerisms – get clouded out by the venomous politics between the countries’ governments.

During this time of celebration for the 69th year of independence of Pakistan and India, I strongly believe that the only way forward is for the citizens of both these countries to recognise their shared experiences and heritage, and to cooperate for a more prosperous future – like the people in the South Asian diaspora do.

At the intergovernmental level, Indo-Pak relations have unfortunately been sour from the dawn of independence, largely due to the horrific violence that occurred during partition. Since then, there have been three wars, territorial disputes, nuclear proliferation, limited trade and travel across the border, tutelage of hateful propaganda, and much more. Every time relations begin to improve between Pakistan and India, some kind of spoiler inevitably seems to emerge.

A toxic environment has become entrenched in the subcontinent, such that economic and political cooperation between the two states is nearly impossible. It is somewhat understandable then that people begin to lose hope in the prospects for lasting Indo-Pak peace, much less friendship. However, it is not as if Indians and Pakistanis can never or will never get along, there should still be hope for the future.

Indeed, all one has to do is leave the subcontinent and pay a visit to the global South Asian exodus to find the exact opposite. Whether in the suburbs of New Jersey or the neighbourhoods of London, people of Indian and Pakistani origin – both immigrants and their children – are often the best of friends. In a strange but logical way, Pakistanis and Indians become closer and closer the farther they are from their homelands.

Outside of South Asia, where people live under different circumstances and take on new national identities, the hyper-nationalist rhetoric fuelling Indo-Pak hatred gradually loses importance. What remains are aspects of culture like language, music, cuisine, and even sports. In the United States, where Indians and Pakistanis find themselves few in number, I often see cooperation and solidarity between the two groups. Whether it’s arranging a concert of classical South Asian music or setting up cricket clubs, people of desi origin in America successfully come together. Desis in the United States even naturally cluster in the same geographical neighbourhoods and support each other’s endeavours such as restaurants, grocery stores, businesses and so on.

In my own life, my Indian-American friends and I have shared great memories. We have helped each other move apartments, attended desi concerts together, and supported each other through thick and thin. When tensions escalate between India and Pakistan, it does not affect our friendship, not because we are indifferent – since we have so many relatives there and stay connected to the region – but because we don’t believe in giving into individual-level hatred because of political differences. Usually we are on the same page with respect to disliking conflict and preferring peace, but when we do disagree, we debate with civility, just as we would debate American politics. Otherwise, we focus on our many common interests and hobbies that stem from our shared heritage.

A friend of Indian origin once told me,

“India and Pakistan may have separated, but that doesn’t mean that people from both sides of the border shouldn’t be close socially and culturally. I love listening to Coke Studio and going to Pakistani restaurants.”

I was incredibly touched by the sentiment. I named all the Indian music and movies I enjoyed, and told him about my desire to visit India to see all of its rich historical sites. Later, he mentioned how he wanted to see Lahore, so I told him I’d love to show him around – or otherwise we could at least end up meeting on opposite sides of the Wagah border.

To me, the fact that Pakistanis and Indians are so close to each other in the United States, United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the world suggests that it is largely petty politics and propaganda that hold them back in South Asia. There is so much that the two groups can accomplish by communicating with and learning from each other, as similar challenges exist in both societies. Even if the two countries’ governments have serious disputes and grievances against one another, person-to-person interaction and cooperation is mutually beneficial and should not be stifled.

Of course, many Pakistanis and Indians living in their mother countries want peace and friendship across the border, but the paranoia, distrust, irrational hatred, and conspiracy theories are certainly not negligible. Having watched mainstream television channels airing from both countries, it is disappointing how hatred and negative stereotypes are perpetuated, turning people against each other. Constant animosity between neighbouring countries is bound to be detrimental to both sides’ economies and societies, and in the modern world there are very few examples of developed nations that are hostile towards its neighbours.

Pakistanis and Indians must move beyond the toxic, conflict-promoting politics in both states, as those outside the subcontinent have largely done. It will be a challenge, but if citizens from both sides come together today, it will lay the groundwork for future peace and prosperity. Just like their pasts, the futures of India and Pakistan are tied together – whether they like it or not. Since neither country exists within a bubble, important issues like trade, climate change, and security will not be effectively dealt with without cooperation.

Citizens and non-governmental organisations should focus on building trust, promoting peace, and improving fact-based perceptions even if the Pakistani and Indian governments quarrel. In fact, building extra-governmental relationships and trust is a good way to set the stage for government policies to change down the line. In this spirit Indians and Pakistanis can each make progress, while reducing hate and getting to know each other.

Hamza Shad

Hamza Shad

The author is a senior at the University of Chicago studying Political Science and Economics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • KlingOn2K

    I wouldn’t say Indians and Pakistanis are friends overseas. They do interact with each other but otherwise have their own friend circles. However, they do come together in their love for music and films.Recommend

  • Pankaj

    We Indian will NOT give even an INCH of Kashmir to Pakistan ;CapisceRecommend

  • Sunil

    So funny. I was born overseas and am 3rd generation. We do not mix with you guys.Recommend

  • MT

    Accept it mate that ITs pakistan which needs India abroad. Indians are elites, top immigrants in west while pakistani are mediocre & needs all kinds of supportRecommend

  • Ram Dargad

    There is a need for the peace loving liberals in both countries to come together to fight the fanatics in both countries.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    Abroad most Pakistanis claim themselves to be Indians. Especially those running restaurants have sign of Indian restaurants.Recommend

  • BlackHat

    True. The unfortunately, the parasitic vested interests will let go of the choking stranglehold only when the host dies, unless wisdom dawns.

    Wish a call for peace goes viral on social media across South Asia, like Arab Spring, compelling the establishment to relent.Recommend

  • RK

    Dear Hamza you probably don’t know that Pakistan is ruled by military dictatorship which exists because of this hate.Recommend

  • HonkyTonk Man

    We will see about that… we already took a fair bit of it and even gave some to China.Recommend

  • Heart Breaker

    No leader from any political party till date had and has the guts to show an index finger to bring peace. India
    & Pak must continue to “talk” while soldiers on both sides gets
    butchered because we have got imbeciles sitting in the Parliament.Recommend

  • Salil Chowdhury

    What is Kashmir? It is one of the many states of India. What is the problem now? The problem is that it has the border with terrorist nation called Pakistan. What is the issue now? Pakistan says we are Muslims and they are Muslims so we want that state. What happened to other inhabitants like Kashmir Pandits? They were killed, kidnapped, raped, driven out of Kashmir by the Kashmir Muslims with the support of Pakistan. When will this problem stop? When Pakistan is further disintegrated which is being strongly pursued by Pakistan politicians and army.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    Listen to Mehbooba Mufti’s latest address to the Kashmiris. She has rightly cautioned the Kashmiri people against the gun culture, giving examples of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, which all have Azaadi, but no peace.

    India must not allow another such mess in Kashmir, and pursuing the right policy in Kashmir.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    My friend, all your fears will be gone, as soon as Pakistan stops meddling in Indian Kashmir. Yes, for that you must forget Indian J&K.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    Say Indian Kashmir, to be specific.Recommend

  • Sane

    But, in 1947 half of your territory was snatched and you could not do anything. Where were you at that time?Recommend

  • Sane

    and you sell Pakistani mangoes, rice branding as India.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    All Indians r enemies of pakistan.What you r gonna do now?My take..either change your way to see the stuffs or let the things remain as it is..What this author blabbers ,is simple nonsense.Recommend

  • Ram Dargad

    This is exactly the kind of arguments, Pakistani fanatics also present. They harp on Kashmir problem of India, Gujarat 2002, Samjhota express blasts & justify their hatred of India. The fanatics on the 2 sides sustain each other by using mutual hatred.
    Fanatic Khalistanis killed Hindus & Fanatics ( mostly Hindu congress foot soldiers) killed Sikhs in 1984. Fanatic Islamist drove out Pandits from Valley. Fanatics created havoc in Gujarat 2002. Fanatics have ruined Pakistan. All 4 wars were started by fanatics, (even if they were Pakistanis). I still wonder, if you will get my point.Recommend